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November 1, 2015

Changing of the Guard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Dawn passed away, Jake became my favorite dog.  I had had him longer than anybody else in the kennel.  He had far more miles as a lead dog than anybody else.  He also was outgoing and charming.  Jake liked everybody and everybody liked Jake. 

Two years ago, while I was preparing to skijor the Iditarod Trail, Jake was sixth best in the kennel.  That was as an 11 year old.  Of course, his ease with new things and ability as a leader counted alongside speed and strength, not to mention that I did want to see if I could get him on one last real adventure, but he was also doing fine regarding speed and strength. 

Eventually, he and Tanner got cut and I ran with Prudhoe, Gaiya, Lolo, and Shoshone.  It was the first time I cut Jake from my main team since I got him as a 16 month old.  I felt sad doing this, but it’s a reality every musher knows.

Last fall, at more than twelve years old, Jake kept up with my A-Team.  I had had the experience of two twelve year olds, Vixen and Otter, keeping up a good pace---we averaged 10 mph for more than 15 miles of sledding on hills---but I’ve since found just how rare that is.  I don’t know if Jake could have done this, but I was still delighted with how he was doing.  January, showing no symptoms prior to his last night, Jake passed away.  He was just over twelve and a half. 

With Jake’s passing, Shoshone and Tok became my favorite males and the Three Wise Bitches, Fondue, Tempest, and Mitzi, became my three favorite females.  Shone had been among my top two dogs from the time he showed up, right around his second birthday, to the year that I tried running the Iditarod Trail.  Last year, as a ten year old, was the first time he fell out of that tier.  My top two dogs, the ones I took on my wilderness camping trip up Monture Creek, were Prudhoe and Gaiya.  Still, except for times he was ill, Shoshone was running with the A-Team, including more than 100 miles in lead. 

And so I started him with the A-team again this past September.  As the runs progressed and everybody else got stronger, Shone started having problems.  Speed, even though moderate by anything we’d done before, threw him.  He refused to lope.  I tried seeing if a course of rimadyl would help.  Rimadyl had given Sima a full season of running after I thought I’d have to retire him, so I had some hope.  Unfortunately, that didn’t work for Shone, and so, sadly, I moved him over to my B-Team.

Actually, while he had a slightly easier time, Lolo also had problems keeping up with the A’s.  I move him to the B’s along with his cousin.  With this, while they’re running less---they get two runs a week and the A’s are now getting a minimum of three---both Lolo and Shoshone are having a much better time.  My goal for the B-Team is to have everybody who wants to and can pull do it.  We’re only doing three mile runs, so even though the median age on the team is between 12 and 13, the only dog I’m not running is Fondue—she’s both blind and has arthritis.    

With Shone and Lolo running with the B’s, I have just seven dogs running on my A-Team.  Still, they’re posting better times than I’ve seen in several years.  My three new dogs, Motor Man, Lamia, and Omaha are really making a difference.

Sybil, Shoshone’s littermate, is the only true senior still on the A-Team.  As a nine and a half year old, Daisy is next in age.  They led during our fastest run of our four mile route.  One of the truths I’ve learned running dogs is it’s impossible to predict how rapidly a dog will age.  The rejoinder is I know to savor any time a senior does well.  

Once I move to skis, I’ll drop down to six dogs.  With this, Sybbie will run with the B’s.  For the time being, however, I can enjoy watching my little Sybbie-Dibbie as she runs with the kids.  

Cameo, Kennicott, Quid, Lolo, Gaiya, and his neighbor, Omaha, all happily came.  Then, “Motor Man!”  He came, but not close enough to grab, either by slowly reaching or a fast grab.  I tried for a few minutes, used every tone of voice I could from sweetness to command tone, and got no difference in response. 

I tethered the rest of the yard, Mitzi, Tok, Tempest, Fondue, Lamia, Daisy, Murphy, Sybil, Thor, and Shoshone, then closed the gate to the play/hook-up yard, Motor Man in the main kennel, and tried again.

Actually I tried pretty much everything I could think of.  That included letting a few dogs off of their tethers and back out into the play yard where Motor Man had come to me and I had taken off his leash.  Throughout this, he’d come and take a treat, but he never came close enough for me to catch him.  I got everybody back into the main kennel and all the other dogs back on their tethers---they did each get another treat.

I’m not totally sure this wasn’t something of a game at the start, but I think he realized quickly that it wasn’t.  If it had been, he would have given up.  In time, I realized I had only one choice and it wasn’t one I was happy about.  I’d have to run him down. 

The reality is, if he and I ran similar distances, I wouldn’t stand a chance.  Even at a three or four to one ratio of his distance to mine, he’d eventually win out.  My edge would have to be mental toughness.  Keeping him a little stressed by chasing him and never letting up would be my only hope.  I’ve always said that one of the reasons I can do well with dogs is I can out persist them.  That proclamation was about to be tested.

I would have liked all his initial experiences at Silly Lake to have been positive.  Chasing him down would nicely set me up as the alpha, but it would also be stressful for him---that is how I’d get it done in the first place.  I didn’t like the choice, but I saw no alternative.

And so the chase began.  I’d jog and run across the yard, he’d run near its perimeter.  Occasionally, I’d change directions a bit with the goal of forcing him into rhythm changes and making this more stressful than plain old laps.  Still, he was a racing dog in his prime and I’m a human long past mine.  All I could do was continue to pressure him psychologically as well as physically.

I don’t know how many miles we covered, but an hour and a quarter later, it happened.  He ducked under Mitzi’s platform---she’s dug a pretty nice den there.  I reached under and grabbed his front leg.  He didn’t object and I was able to pull him out.  He had submitted.  I grabbed is collar and let go of the leg, walked him over to his platform, hooked him up, and gave him his treat.  He submitted and I accepted and I wanted him to know that, with that, he was still my Motor Man. 
Since that first yardtime, I’ve kept a leash on him and that’s worked well.  He is learning to trust me and that I’m actually a pretty friendly guy.  During yardtime, he frequently sets himself up for me to scratch him, which I do.  Dog runs too---he’s had seven in less than two weeks---have gone very well.  He even understood immediately that the water he was going to get was in the bucket and three bowls I had walked him past that first run---he definitely prefers drinking from the bucket to drinking from a bowl. 

One change I have clearly seen is that he spent most of the first few days here under his platform.  Now, he happily relaxes on top of his dog house.  I always knew I would give Motor Man a great life.  It’s less than two weeks since he arrived here, but I think he’s figuring that out as well. 

 

 

   
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